Katja Samuel was engaged, on an individual consultancy basis, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Justice Section, to conduct a desk review on the topic of sport as a tool for the prevention of violent extremism (PVE).
The Doha Declaration, adopted at the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice held in Doha, Qatar (2015), made commitments on the prevention of crime and violent extremism regarding youth participation in existing crime prevention efforts. In particular, the Congress recognized that in order for violent extremism prevention as well as social cohesion strengthening efforts to be more effective, the provision of support to youth drawn from different backgrounds should be afforded high priority.
This is reflective of other parallel developments and identified priorities, such as by UNESCO Member States which similarly have underscored the significance to PVE efforts of youth empowerment including through different educational means. This is consistent too with the approach and priorities identified in the United Nations Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (2015). Of particular relevance to the current project, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the growing significance of sport as a PVE tool, including through the promotion of tolerance and respect, as well as the empowerment of communities as well as persons (especially women and young people) otherwise commonly marginalized or socially excluded.
Research undertaken to date suggests that sport can play a key role in the social and personal development of young people, such as better connecting them with adult role models, as well as teaching them about broader life skills. An overarching sought goal is to employ sport as a means of diverting young people away from crime and violence, including violent extremism, thereby also enabling them to live more peaceful and productive lives.
There is a paucity of research and evidence base, however, regarding the connection between sport-based programs and actual crime prevention, both more generally and with respect to violent extremism. Such understanding is important in order for all key stakeholders, including the United Nations and Member States, to better shape and design future programs to maximise their impact. To date, entities such as UNODC have developed already a number of initiatives focusing on at-risk youth, such as skills development, aimed at preventing crime and violence through the increased empowerment of at-risk youth. UNODC, together with other United Nations entities, especially UNESCO, recognise the potential role of sport to promote mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence, including in the context of education and skills training.
The main aim, and sought deliverables, of this project was to better comprehend how sport and sport-based learning can be used in an effective manner to target risk factors and protective factors related to violent extremism, and as a vehicle for social development and community engagement, among young people especially those most at risk.
To this end, the desk review considered ongoing and recent programs and initiatives globally that use sport as instrument of PVE efforts and/or to promote protective factors relevant to PVE such as intercultural dialogue and peacebuilding. It aimed especially to identify any programs with a proven evidence base where a link may be made between sport or sport-based learning and positively influenced changes in terms of vulnerabilities / attitudes / behaviours of concern.